Dutton Institute Blog

Adding Events to Your Canvas Calendar

Fri, 2016-08-26 11:41 -- szw5009

Compared to ANGEL, the Canvas Calendar has so much more utility. Highlights of some of the features in the Canvas Calendar include:

  • A global view across all of your courses. Simply toggle on or off the courses you want to see
  • Integration of assignment due dates. Whenever you add a due date to any assignment in your course, it is automatically added to the calendar
  • Drag and drop editing
  • The option to adjust calendar dates when importing into a new semester. Remember how in ANGEL, you had to manually move the calendar entries? This is no longer needed -- you can select the start date of the existing section and the start date of the new section, and everything gets moved for you!

With all of these new features, it might be pretty overwhelming to set up your course calendar. I've received a few questions regarding how to add items the calendar, so I made the following recording: Adding Events to Your Course Calendar

The focus is on adding "events." I want to make this distinction because Canvas categorizes calendar items as either events or assignments. Events are primarily used as reminders for students -- for example, "Start Lesson 1" or "Quiz 1 Opens." Assignments, on the other hand, are centered on deliverable items with due dates. These typically are automatically added to your calendar if you have a due date set up in your assignment settings.

For more information about calendars, visit the Canvas Instructor Calendar Guide



Considering Vygotsky in Relation to Course Design

Mon, 2016-07-25 10:46 -- mrs110

Many of our online courses feature discussion activities and group work, but could they be designed to be more beneficial to students? Yep. Try adding a little Vygotskian theory to your diet.

Lev Vygotsky was a Russian cognitive theorist who began developing some big ideas (socio-cultural theory) but then died young. Still, educators highly value his ideas about the ways social surroundings within learning environments help us learn, particularly when those environments include skilled partners -- which may mean the instructor, but which may also be peers. The key is that guided, or social, learning can lead to better understanding and performance than can working alone. Also important is a consideration of the role of the instructor: source of knowledge or role model? Or both?

Consider the following, from Sociocultural Approaches to Learning and Development: A Vygotskian Framework by Vera John-Steiner ad Holbrook Mahn of the Univeristy of New Mexico:

“Divergent classrooms can become learning communities -- communities in which each participant makes significant contributions to the emergent understandings of all members, despite having unequal knowledge concerning the topic under study" (Palincsar, Brown, & Campione, 1993, p. 43). [Brown and her colleagues] examine the role of "reciprocal teaching," an approach in which "students and teachers take turns leading discussions about shared text" (p. 43), to see whether structured dialogues foster a learning community. The teachers in these studies have a changing role. They share with the students the well-defined tasks of questioning, clarifying, summarizing, and predicting in order to construct text-based knowledge. These studies exemplify two themes in sociocultural approaches to … learning and teaching -- (1) the implementation of an educational program that allows for or encourages the co-construction of knowledge and (2) the analysis of this learning that contributes to our understanding of … learning from a sociocultural perspective. Collaborative learning plays an increasing role in these as well as many other innovative [learning environments].

To learn more, check out these links and articles:

Simply Psychology’s page about Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky and the Virtual Classroom

Towards a Neo-Vygotskian Approach to 21st Century Learning


Beach Reading: Best Blogs for Online Learning

Tue, 2016-06-28 13:40 -- ekb120
woman reading on beach
Credit: Michael Mol via Flickr

The sound of waves crashing onto the shore…

The feeling of wind blowing through your hair…

The crisp taste of a refreshing beverage as you sit in the hot sun…

And a list of e-learning blogs to add to your news feed….

Summer is here! For many of us, summer is an opportunity to make more time to explore our passions. At the Dutton Institute, one of our passions is creating high-quality educational opportunities for Penn State students. We are often motivated and inspired in this pursuit by connecting with resources that highlight current trends and best practices in online education. The curated list below is meant to provide you with a jumping-off point (a diving board, if you will) for finding helpful online resources to inspire your online teaching. Read on!

The Web 2.0 Connected Classroom. Steven W. Anderson provides many insights into ways that technology and social media can be integrated into meaningful learning experiences for students. For those of you on Twitter, he is also a prolific tweeter.

The Innovative Educator. Lisa Nielsen is a public school educator who has an excellent perspective on ways to use technology to enhance students’ classroom experiences (both online and in-person). A recurring post is The Hottest Posts Everyone's Reading, in which she shares links to high-traffic ed-tech blog posts from around the web.

E-Learning Acupuncture. Eric Tremblay is an educational developer in Ontario. His blog is full of helpful information about a variety of topics, including active learning in an online environment and current trends in ed-tech.

E-learning by Tracy Parrish. Tracy Parrish has curated this enormous list of e-learning tools, most of which are free. They are listed by category for easy navigation. Very helpful!

For those bookworms out there, here are some recent releases that we have read and that you may want to check out as well:

Show Your Work by Jane Bozarth

Jane recently presented a workshop on showing your work at the Elements Web Conference at Penn State. She inspired Dutton learning designers to rethink how we share our work with others.

Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen

Julie participated in a Q&A this spring with PSU learning designers who had read her book. Her book does a great job of reminding us how the brain works, and how we can maximize learning by making some important adjustments to our instruction and online presentation.

If you are interested in checking out a more extensive list of resources, including YouTube Channels and Twitter accounts, you can check out this collaborative document created by two of our Dutton Institute learning designers. 

Happy reading!

Canvas Assignments and Rubrics

Fri, 2016-03-25 11:55 -- azs2

In Canvas, assignments include quizzes, graded discussions, and online submissions (i.e. files, images, text, URLs, etc.). Assignments in Canvas can be used to challenge students' understanding and help assess competency by using a variety of media. Rubrics can play a big part in assessing a student's competency. There are many different definitions for rubric, but we have settled on one by Susan M. Brookhart from her 2013 book How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading. A rubric is “a coherent set of criteria for students' work that includes descriptions of levels of performance quality on the criteria” .  One of the nicer aspects of Canvas is that it make using rubrics easy. Canvas's rubric tool is integrated right into the assignment page which makes  the rubric very visible to students. As soon as the student clicks the assignment to learn what it is they need to do, they see the full rubric for that assignment. 

Canvas makes using a rubric to grade an assignment so easy. You can add them to assignments, quizzes and discussions to make grading these item faster and easier. Rubrics that you’ve created in a Canvas course are available for you to use in all your Canvas courses. For example, if you use writing rubrics in multiple courses, you can just reuse one that you like and edit it to work for the different assignments. You can also search for rubrics that other instructors or designers have added to the Canvas Commons and use those in your course. Rubrics are quick and easy to set up and to use for grading in Speedgrader. Work out the specifics of your rubric somewhere else like in Word or a Google Doc and then paste the info into Canvas. It will save you tons of time once you are in Canvas.

Below are several links to resources that you may find useful if you want to lear more about rubrics in general and using rubrics in Canvas specifically. 

Useful Links on Rubrics

Adobe Connect recording of Coffee, Cookies and Canvas Assignments and Rubrics training session

Rubrics Box Folder contains a full presentation slides and rubric templates.
Download Presentation Hacking Canvas: Making the rubric tool in Canvas work for you


Canvas Resources (search "rubrics" in the Course Guides for a complete list)

Create an Assignment in Canvas

Add a Rubric to an Assignment

Add a rubric to a Graded Discussion

Add a rubric to a quiz

Grading using a rubric



Communication Tools in Canvas

Fri, 2016-03-04 08:43 -- mas960

Canvas has many options available for communication. Instructors can personalize their messages by posting audio and video messages in discussions, the SpeedGrader, and Conversations. Here is a list of the communication tools you can take advantage of in Canvas, and a brief description of the uses for each:

  1. Announcements are a great way for instructors to communicate to the class as a whole. The rich text editor allows numerous formatting options and the ability to add images and video. Instructors have the option to delay postings, allow liking, and add attachments.
  2. Conversations is the equivalent of email in Canvas. It's great to use for a quick email to an individual student or teams. Keep in mind that the text editor is very minimal, and does not allow much formatting like the editor does in Announcements.
  3. Discussions allow students to interact with the instructor and other classmates. Threaded discussions allow multiple posts and replies. New posts appear in the Course Activity Stream page, so students will know when something has been posted.
  4. Chat allows individuals in a course to interact in real time. Be aware that messages in the chat cannot be deleted and the chat history can be viewed by anyone in the course.
  5. Conferences allow instructors to host synchronous meetings online. Canvas integrates with BigBlueButton, a conferencing tool similar to Adobe Connect. Recordings made in BigBlueButton are available for a period of only two weeks after creation.

For more information on Canvas’s communication tools, visit the following sites:


What Do You See?

Fri, 2016-02-19 15:58 -- jls164

The probability of encountering a student with color deficiency (color blindness) in your online course is higher than you might think. By following accessibility best practices you can eliminate potential issues with image interpretation from the start. However, what about images from outside sources that you require the student to analyze? Are there strategies that you can employ to assist a student with color deficiency? The answer is “yes.”

Consider a case study from an online Meteorology course. Meteorology uses many different types of images, both color and grey scale. Often color is used to convey differing atmospheric properties and color distinction is key to an accurate analysis. In the image below, the student is asked to place the following radar scans in order from lowest altitude to highest altitude.

Radar Reflectivity

The variable being displayed is called radar reflectivity; you can think of it as rainfall intensity. In this image warm colors represent higher intensities. The key concept being assessed is that radar reflectivity decreases with increasing altitude in the cloud. You can see that the correct answer is (1, 3, 4, 2) because the overall intensity as well as the distribution of the high intensity region decreases when following this order.


But what about a student with a red/green color deficiency (Protanopia/ Deuteranopia)? They will see the above image like the one below. This image was created using the Colblinder Color Blindness Simulator in order to simulate what a student with deuteranopia (red-green color blindness) would see. Using this image, the answer isn’t so clear. The high levels of reflectivity (red) look almost identical to the low reflectivity (green) regions! A student trying to interpret this data would be at a distinct disadvantage. They could ask a friend or spouse to help them interpret the information but that may not always be practical and it doesn’t meeting the accessibility standard of providing perceivable content to all students, including those with color deficiency.

Radar Reflective as seen by a student with Deuteranopia (Red-Green colorblindness)


In this case, providing labels is a good solution. Below you will see the original image with labels and then the image as a color blind student would see it. This solution allows the student to perceive and interact with the content and perform the assessment independently.

Radar Reflective with labels

This is a fairly complex example, but one with a relatively simple solution. The first step to helping the student is to simulate what they are seeing. Then you will know how to proceed. You might use annotation, labels, symbols, an alternate image, or a text description. If you know that you have a student with a color deficiency, make sure you consider (and test) images that are time sensitive (such as those on a quiz) ahead of time in order to prevent issues from arising where the student is at a disadvantage.

Additional Resources

Colblinder Color Blindness Simulator

Orient Yourself!

Fri, 2016-02-05 12:41 -- mrs110
A Compass


The Dutton Institute Canvas Orientation is a primer-style, self-guided, introductory-level orientation to help you navigate and understand all aspects of Canvas. Follow this link and dive into Canvas:  Dutton Institute Canvas Orientation. When you’ve worked your way through the orientation, create a sandbox for yourself and keep exploring, build a course, or follow the instructions for importing an existing course.

The Dutton orientation is aimed at all EMS faculty, whether you teach resident or online courses, or both. Find course set-up information, suggestions for how to organize your class material in Canvas, links to in-depth instructions for all aspects of Canvas, and access to the Dutton learning design team and its training session offerings

Screen shot of the Dutton Tutorial's home page


Canvas Help Has Arrived!

Fri, 2016-01-29 15:17 -- ekb120
life preserver hanging on wall
Credit: life preserver via flickr, CC BY 2.0


Penn State has begun the transition from ANGEL to university-wide adoption of Canvas. No new courses will be started in ANGEL after June 2017, and instructors will be able to access ANGEL online only through the end of December 2017.

Are you breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it? Never fear! In order to ease this transition, there is a wide variety of training and support resources available, both virtually and on campus.

To begin with, the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute has created an online Canvas tutorial that is specific to faculty and staff in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The Dutton Institute Faculty Orientation is a primer-style self-guided learning path with links to additional Canvas resources for in-depth instruction. The Dutton Institute is supplementing this resource with a full docket of Canvas training sessions. You can sign up at http://bit.ly/cookiesandcanvas.

February 9: 11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Orientation - 11:30-12:15
Communication/Notifications - 12:15-1:00

February 25: 11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Orientation - 11:00-11:45
Assignments/Rubrics - 11:45-12:30

March 14: 10:00 am - 11:30 pm
Orientation - 10:00-10:45
Quizzes/Assessments - 10:45-11:30

March 23: 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
Orientation - 2:00-2:45
SpeedGrader/Gradebook - 2:45-3:30

April 12: 11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Orientation - 11:30-12:15
Groups/Teams - 12:15-1:00

April 28: 11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Orientation - 11:00-11:45
Faculty Roundtable - 11:45-12:30

Penn State also has a wide variety of Canvas transition resources available. The Canvas at Penn State website (canvas.psu.edu) is continually updated with Penn State-specific Canvas transition information, including a link to Penn State’s Canvas Learning Center and schedules of upcoming Canvas training sessions.

The University will also be sponsoring a Canvas Day from 1-6 p.m. on Friday, March 18th at the Penn Stater. The event will feature a variety of learning sessions, as well as networking opportunities with those already using Canvas. More information can be found at the event website.

As always, the Dutton Institute is here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance with your conversion to Canvas!

Maps You Can Hear and Touch

Mon, 2015-10-12 12:40 -- jls164

As I was considering the topic for this month’s accessibility blog, I came across a great article, “Maps That You Can Hear and Touch” by Laura Bliss. Given the College’s emphasis on STEM material and use of all types of maps (GIS maps, Geography maps, weather maps, etc) and the University’s growing interest in 3D printing, I thought this would be the perfect topic.

Please take a minute to read this short article. It is certainly interesting and hopefully inspiring. If you have any questions or thoughts on the topic, please let me know. I am sitting on a University committee to explore the use of 3D printing in online education.  Your insights would be very helpful as we move forward.


Accessibility: Using Headings on Your Webpages

Wed, 2015-09-02 12:42 -- jls164

Please note that using proper headings is one of the MOST IMPORTANT tools for screen reader users.

Credit: Nikki Massaro Kauffman


Content must be “Navigable” by all users. This requires landmarks so screen reader users are able to easily organize and scan a page.

The way to do this is to utilize headings and sub-headings on web pages. Headings are used to organize information into logical pieces and allow screen reader users to scan and navigate to specific parts of a page, just as a sighted user would do. Without proper headings, a screen reader doesn’t differentiate between various topics on a page.

To be in compliance, headings must be created using html code rather than basic formatting. 

Faculty and Learning Design Responsibilities

Use properly formatted headings and sub-headings (rather than simply increasing font size) when working in Drupal. Please review the details of creating properly formatted and compliant headings in Drupal for details.